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A House of Cards, Money and Power

by on May 05, 2014 6:45 AM

Each week as I write this column, I try to give my spin on a local or national issue.

I then use a metaphor or a personal story or research in the topic area to support my opinion.

This week, I had a hard time deciding in which direction I wanted to go. I considered the "house of cards" example. As kids, we used decks of playing cards to build houses. With weak building materials forming a pretty flimsy foundation, each layer offers more weight and therefore almost guarantees that the whole structure would come crashing down. The term "house of cards" is often used to describe a situation that, with just a little bit of wind, could result in a total collapse.

I also considered building the article around the concept that "more isn't always better." Our culture has a tendency to take an idea, an organization or an initiative and push it and grow it with the idea that bigger always means better. Sometimes that second scoop of ice cream after the first one tasted so good leaves us with a tummy ache and a general sense of over-indulgence. More doesn't always mean better.

I also considered using theme based on the addictive nature of power. Research has demonstrated that people who have power over others can physiologically experience the same rush (and therefore the same craving and self-serving behaviors to get that rush) as people who use cocaine and other brain altering substances.

According to the research, baboons who are elevated in the dominance hierarchy within their social group show higher levels of dopamine (the feel good chemical)in their brains than they did when they were lower on the totem pole. In other words, they get high on power. Like our baboon counterparts, power can screw up one's judgment, decision making and capability for empathy for others.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association -- what most call the NCAA -- could be the theme of all three of those stories. The NCAA was recently back in the news with the reversal of the food allowance for student athletes. Additionally, comments by National Football League hall of fame member and former college standout James Brown about the NCAA seem to be expressing greater public sentiment.

"I think that body needs to be torn apart and put back together with everybody's best interests in mind." Brown said "Total exploitation. The kind of money they make, the kind of life they live, it's embarrassing."

Are recent decisions and responses to situations in college athletics sending warning signs that the NCAA is about to crash? Has this non-profit agency become so big and so financially focused that it no longer serves the needs of its members or its mission? Have the people in charge become so addicted to their power that they need to go cold turkey?

The answer to all of those questions, in this writer's opinion, is emphatically yes.

A system that permits a college basketball team (UConn) to compete for, let alone win a National Championship with a team that reports an eight percent graduation rate for its players and for which a star player reports that he goes to bed "starving" each night is all one needs to show that this system is broken. When the top administrator of that organization makes $1.6 million dollars and can seemingly at will make decisions and change policy with unfettered power, it's time to pull the plug.

An organization that oversteps its boundaries and applies sanctions for which it is not authorized is an organization that needs a "do over."

Cash to players under the table from alumni. Sexual assaults by athletes that are swept under the rug. Cheating scandals. Made up college courses and "papers only" classes that are exclusively for student athletes. Illegal recruiting.

And yet at the same time, personnel at other universities are bogged down with having to file reports of "violations" of student athletes having second helpings of pasta at an athletic event or of other personal "gain" when a student washed her car with university water lest they incur the wrath of the mighty NCAA.

Something ain't right in Indiana.

The seeds of the NCAA were planted in 1852 when the rowing teams at Harvard and Yale participated in an inter-collegiate competition. The intent of what has become the NCAA was to standardize the inter-collegiate game and competition rules and to oversee eligibility (i.e. the participants needed to actually be matriculated students at the designated college or university).

That noble idea has evolved into a mega-conglomerate of oversight and micro-management of student eligibility, profits from merchandise, tournament and television rights, sanctions, scandals and astronomical profits for both the organization and the member universities.

Somewhere along the way, someone forgot that collegiate athletics is supposed to be about college students.

The NCAA has become so out of touch and high on its own power that they don't seem to be able to see beyond the almighty dollar. They tout protection and regulation of college athletics and of student athletes but their inconsistent application of rules and sanctions totally blows any credibility. It's a Kangaroo Court of sanctions, fines and, in the case of Penn State, harm against athletes who had nothing to do with any scandal.

Sadly, those same NCAA administrators look the other way when a potential recruit or, heaven forbid an actual graduate, can't read above a third grade level.

In other recent NCAA headlines, student athletes at Northwestern University were given permission to begin the process of unionization with the idea that students who receive scholarships should be considered as employees and therefore eligible for employee benefits. Pending legislation is also considering protective measures for both universities and individual players related to sanctions, status and privileges within the NCAA.

It's time for university presidents to step forward and demand an audit or review of what is happening inside the ruling body of collegiate athletics.

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Patty Kleban is an instructor at Penn State, mother of three and a community volunteer. She is a Penn State Alumna. Readers of State College Magazine voted her Best Writer of 2010 and 2012. She and her family live in Patton Township. Her views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State.
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